These Last Few Months, in Pieces

“And they dreamed of freedom birds.”

– Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried”

 

I was waiting by the phone, so it hadn’t fully rang when I picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Her plane just touched down.”

Dad.

Dad, and a sense of relief, a feeling of one less thing to worry about.

Months of half-expressed fear and frustration began to subside.

• • • 

It was a few weeks after a handful of fanatics had turned passenger jets into weapons when she brought the subject up.

“I’m thinking of going back into the Army.”

She has always been a seeker, my elder sibling. 

For years: Different jobs, life spent across several cities, classes in assorted colleges, her inner sense of place never quite satisfied. Now that questing voice within was telling her to retake her place in armed service, convincing her this was how she could make a difference in a nation suddenly as unsure of itself, as ill at ease as she had so often been.

My parents expressed concern and worry, but offered no resistance. Our paths have always been our own to seek, and while they have advised, warned, cajoled, suggested, and implied, they have never forbidden.

“Jon, what do you think?”

I think you’re an optimist, more the dreamer everyone accuses me of being, if you believe this is the way to peace and recovery for our nation.

“I think you’re doing what you have to.”

• • • 

In time we came to almost forget. We watched her fit seamlessly into an old place, heard tales of new friends, rejoiced with her as she married an old one.

Then the man at 1600 began sending troops across. 

• • • 

“She’s in a maintenance company, drives a fuel truck. They’ll be behind the lines.”

Dad.

I can tell when he’s worried because while his tone hardly changes, and his face is as impassive as ever, he speaks ever-so-slightly slower, as though considering the words carefully, tasting them for believability.

He went to war, knows as well as anyone that “safe” has no place in sentences about armed conflict, understands that the lines are all too often redrawn, erased, colored across. 

• • • 

The thing about working sporadically and via computer is that it leaves quite a lot of time for other things.

News.

Fire.

Pain.

Death.

And someone says, “The truck was from Fort Bliss, part of a maintenance group.”

Missing.

Captured.

Dead.

Which truck? What company? Who? Who? Who?

• • • 

No news is not good news. No news is the absence of bad news. The absence of bad news is hope in a box.

• • • 

“She’s fine. They were in a different part of the convoy.”

Dad.

I can tell when he’s scared because this is the first time I’ve ever heard his fear.

And I hate myself because the relief I feel is bought with someone else’s tears, because the war goes on, because the bill is still being calculated and I have to hope I’m going to be covered by others until this is over.

• • • 

“Her plane just touched down.”

Dad.

I can tell when he’s been crying because he and I are sometimes all too alike. 

I wipe my face and say a prayer – on the off-chance that amounts to more than talking to myself – this one for the others, all those yet to receive their own calls.